Friday 31 July 2020

Sunspots seen from Manchester in 1870

Sunspots Seen from Manchester 1870

Mr Henry Ormesher of Manchester writes that -

“On the 31st July 1870 while looking at sunspots with my 3 inch refractor, I saw a beautiful cluster of spots, occupying an almost central position on the disc. It occurred to me that the umbra in the largest spot appeared more dense on the eastern side. I therefore determined to examine it with my 5.25 inch refractor; I did so using a power of 181. The result was, that it resolved itself into a very fine nucleus of a somewhat oval shape. After making myself sure that this was the case, I examined the cluster, and was struck with the beautiful appearance of the brighter part of the Sun’s atmosphere. A very bright stream ran across the cluster in a zigzag direction, separating the penumbra. Some parts of this stream, particularly the upper part, appeared brighter than others, presenting a very mottled appearance”

Astrognome A-Z of Constellatioins # 88 Vulpecula

Vulpecula the Fox
A faint constellation at the head of Cygnus the Swan. It originated with the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius who called it Vulpecula cum Anser, the Fox and Goose. Alas the Goose is now more, did the Fox get him?
In 1967 this diminutive constellation was the site of the astounding discovery of the first Pulsar by Jocelyn Bell Burnell using radio telescopes at the university of Cambridge .
Alpha magnitude 4.4 is a M1 red giant star with a temperature of 3,500’C degrees and is 297 light years away.
The famous Dumb Bell Nebula M27 is in Vulpecula but at magnitude 7.5 it requires at least binoculars to find it.

Thursday 30 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 87 Volans

Volans the Flying Fish - Southern Hemisphere
Volans is on the borders or Carina the Keel part of Argo Navis. Volans is not associated with any myths. It was one of the constellations created by the Dutch astronomer and cartographer Petrus Plancius in the late 16th century that first appeared depicted in a star atlas in 1603, in Johann Bayer’s Uranometria. The constellation was originally named Piscis Volans, the flying fish, by Plancius, but the name was eventually shortened to Volans. BB
Beta is the brightest star at magnitude 3.7 its a K2 ornage giant with a temperature of 4,500’ C and is 107 light years away.
Alpha magnitude 4.0 and is an A3 class star with a temperature of 8,000’C and is 125 light years away.

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 86 Virgo

Virgo the Virgin
The 2nd largest constellation in the sky. Many myths are associated with this constellation which has usually been seen as a beautiful and virtuous maiden. But other legends have associated Virgo with successful harvests, and so she is pictured holding an ear of corn (Spica) in her left hand and a palm leaf in her right hand. In these legends she is identified with the Greek harvest goddess Demeter (the Roman Ceres)
Virgo contains a rich cluster of galaxies, the nearest major cluster to us at about 55 million ly.
Alpha or Spica which means ear of wheat has a magnitude of 1.0 and is a B1 class star with a temperature of 25,000’C and is 250 light years away.
Gamma or Porrima named after the Roman goddess of Prophecy has magnitude of 2.8, it is actually a double star the two stars have magnitudes of 3.5 and 3.6 a telescope is needed to see them they are both F0 class stars with temperatures of about 6,700’C gamma is 38 light years away.
Epsilon or Vindemiatrix which means grape gatherer is of magnitude 2.8 and is a G8 giant with a temperature of 5,000’C and is 110 light years away.
There are numerous Messier and NGC objects in Virgo

Tuesday 28 July 2020

T Aquila Discovered in Manchester in 1863

T Aquila discovered in Manchester

Mr Baxendell has forwarded details of a new variable star T Aquila that was discovered at Mr Worthington’s observatory in Manchester on July 28th 1863.

Today we know that T Aquila is a long period red giant star changing in brightness between magnitude 8.8 – 11.0 over a long irregular period of several months.

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 85 Vela

Vela the Sails
Formerly part of the ancient constellation of Argo Navis, which represents the ship that Jason and the Argonauts sailed on looking for the golden fleece. It was broken up by the French astronomer Nicolas De Lacaille in the 1750s, into three parts Carina the Keel, Puppis the Poop and Vela the Sails.
Since Vela is only a sub division of a once larger constellation it has no stars labelled alpha or beta. Vela lies in a rich part of the Milky Way with faint nebulosity which is visible on long exposure photographs.
Gamma or Suhail al Muhlif which means the oath taker has a magnitude of 1.8 and is one of the brare wolf rayetv stars with a spectrum of WC8, the temperature is around 55,000’C and lies at a distance of 336 light years. This star one of the closest WR stars to us.
Delta or Alsafinah which means the ship is a magnitude 2.0 star with a temperature of 9,000’C and is 80 light years away.
Kappa magnitude 2.5 is a B2 class star and is 570 light years away
Mu magnitude is a binary star of magnitude 2.7 the stars are of class G5 giant and a G2 star take 138 light years yo orbit each other. They can be seen with the naked eye. Mu Is 117 light years away and both stars have surface temperatures of around 5,000’C

Monday 27 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 84 Ursa Minor

Ursa Minor The lesser Bear
A constellation said to have been introduced about 600 BC by the Greek astronomer Thales. Ursa Minor contains the present North Star or Polaris which is within one degree of the the north point. Precession will bring Polaris closest to the pole around 2100 AD after which it will start to move away again.
Ursa Minor is also termed the Little Dipper because its seven brightest stars form a shape like a smaller version of the Plough in Ursa Major. The stars Beta and Gamma in the blade of the small plough are referred to as the Guardians of the pole.
The stars are much fainter than the Plough ranging in brightness from the 2nd to the 5th magnitude, if there is any mist in the sky the fainter stars cannot be seen.
Alpha or Polaris which means ‘Polar Star’ magnitude 2.0, spectrum F6 temperature 6,000’C its distance is 430 light years. There are mysteries regarding Polaris it was believed to be a variable star in 1852 and was confirmed in 1911.varying between magnitude 1.8-2.1 since 1966 the variations have slowed and virtually stopped and cannot be noticed by the eye alone. Another mystery suggest that Ptolemy believed it was of the 3rd mag but now it is of the 2nd mag.
Beta or Kochab one of the guardians of the pole, magnitude 2.1 spectrum K4 giant with a temperature of 4,000’C and lies at a disatnce of 130 light yearsy
Gamma the other guardian magnitude 3.0, spctrum A2 giant, temperature 8,000’C, distance 487 light years

The Astronomy Show July 27th 2020 7.00 pm - 9.00pm

The Astronomy Show July 27th 2020, 7 pm - 9 pm

A new series of the Astronomy Show begins on Drystone Radio tonight. There will be all the usual features including the night sky this week, the latest astronomy news, the A-Z of Constellations, astronomical anniversaries this week and the Messier Marathon. I will also be presenting a basic introductioin to the solar system.

The Astronomy Show on Drystone Radio 103.5 FM is also live on line at if you cannot hear the show tonight it will be avavilable on the Drystone Radio podcast for the next 30 days. The Astronomy Show is probably the only regular astronomy radio show in the north of England.

Sunday 26 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 83 Ursa Major

Ursa Major The Great Bear
The 3rd largest constellation in the sky. Its central feature is the seven stars that make up the shape variously called the Plough or Big Dipper, undoubtedly the best known of all star patterns, references of it are found in writings dating back to the dawn of civilisation.
In mythology it is said that Ursa Major was once a princess named Callisto who was so beautiful that the queen of the gods Juno became jealous of her and was unkind enough to turn her into a bear. Later Callisto’s son Arcas came across the bear while he was out hunting and drew his bow in readiness to shoot. He obviously did not recognise his mother!! Jupiter seeing what was about to happen changed Arcas into a bear and swinging both bears by their tails lifted them into the sky, stretching their tails in the process.
The two stars in the blade furthest from the handle Dubhe and Merak are called the pointers because they point to the North Star. UMa contains the brightest red dwarf star Lalande 21185 which is also the 5th closest star to the Sun at 8.3 ly . Joseph Lalande was a French 18th century astronomer.
There are many faint galaxies including several messier objects.
Ursa Major Moving Group epsilon, zeta, beta, gamma, delta FL 30,78,80 all 76-86 ly away
Alpha or Dubhe which means the ’Bear’ magnitude 1.8 spectrum K0 giant 123 light years temperature 4,500’C
Beta or Merak which means ‘Loin’ magnitude 2.4 spectrum A1, 80 light years, temperature 9,300’C
Gamma or Phecda which means ‘Thigh’ magnitude 2.4 spectrum A0, 83 light years, temperature 9,200’C
Delta or Megrez which means ‘Root of the Tail’ magnitude 3.3 spectrum A3, 80 light years temperature 9,300’C. Megrez appears to be a secular variable varying over a very long period of time. Ptolemy thought it was as bright as the other stars, I have seen it change in magnitude over a period of around 40 years.
Epsilon or Alioth unknown meaning magnitude 1.8, spectrum A1 giant, 83 light years, temperature 9,800’C
Zeta or Mizar which means ‘Girdle’ magnitude 2.0 spectrum A2, 83 light years, temperature 9,000’C. Zeta is a celebrated double star with its companion Alcor being seen with the naked eye when the sky is clear. Alcor is magnitude 4.0 and at 82 light years is also part of the moving group. Arabs used it as a test of eyesight.
Eta or Alkaid which means ‘Chief’ magnitude 1.9 spectrum B3, 104 light years, temperature 15,300’C
The following Messier objects are in Ursa Major
M81 spiral galaxy neighbours
M82 spiral galaxy

Saturday 25 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 82 Tucana

Tucana the Toucan - Southern |Hemisphere
A small constellation near the south pole of the sky introduced by Johann Bayer in 1603. It represents the Toucan a bird found in central and south America. The bird has a large beak.
Tucana’s most notable features are the Small Magellanic Cloud and the globular cluster 47 Tucanae
alpha with a magnitude of 2.9 is a K3 giant star lying 200 light years away and has a surface temperature of 4,000’C.
47 Tucanae is a large and brilliant globular cluster visible to the naked eye at magnitude 4.1 as a fuzzy star- hence on early star charts it was actually catalogued as a star. It is second only to omega centauri as the largest and brightest globular cluster in the sky. 47 Tuc is about 47,000 away and 120 light years across and contains millions of stars.
The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way as is its larger brother the Large Megallanic Cloud which is in the constellation of Dorado the Goldfish. The SMC is clearly visible to the naked eye as a nebulous tadpole shaped patch in the sky.
It was first recoded by Ferdinand Magellan during his around the world journey in 1519-22. He recorded it as Nubecula Major which means ‘little cloud’. The SMC is about 200,000 light years away and contains several million stars

Friday 24 July 2020

1851 Accident at York Observatory

1851, Accident at York Observatory

On July 24th 1851 A plumber of Fossgate, City of York met with a serious accident at the York Observatory of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.

He was superintending some repairs to the conical roof, when altering his position he fell from the roof and hit the ground with great violence. Many bones were broken, on being taken to hospital it was reported that he was progressing favourably.

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 81 Triangulum Australe

Triangulum Australe the Southern Triangle
A small but readily distinguishable constellation near alpha Centauri. It was introduced by the German astronomer Johann Bayer in 1603. It is the southern hemisphere equivalent of the long established northern Triangle, Triangulum.
Alpha magnitude 1.9, K2 giant with a temperature of 4,000’C and is 391 light years away
Beta magnitude 2.8 it’s a F1 class star with a temperature of 7,200’C and is 40 light years away.
gamma magnitude 2.9 is an A1 class star with a temperature of 9,200’C and lies 184 light years away

Thursday 23 July 2020

Venus seen from Manchester in 1870

July 23rd 1870, Venus seen from Manchester

On July 23rd 1870 Mr Henry Ormesher of Manchester observed Venus with his 5.25 inch equatorial refractor at 05.00 am. He says that “Definition was excellent, I observed 3 dusky spots on the disc, one of which was of considerable magnitude”

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 80 Triangulum

Triangulum the Triangle
A small but distinctive constellation between Andromeda and Aries, consisting of 3 main stars that form a thin delta or triangle shape. The Greeks referred to it as Deltoton.
Alpha magnitude 3.4 its a F5 giant star with a temperature of 6,000’C and lies at a distance of 63 light years.
Beta magnitude 3.0 is actually brighter than alpha it is an A5 star with a temperature of 8,000’C and is 127 light years away.
Gamma magnitude 4.0 is an A1 class star with a temperature of 9,200 ‘C and is 112 light years away.
Its most important feature is the spiral galaxy M33 which is the 3rd largest member of our local system of our local group of galaxies, following the Andromeda Galaxy and out own Milky Way. M33 has a magnitude of 5.7 and is around 2.7 million light years away, slightly further than the Andromeda galaxy. However because M33 lies face on to us and covers a larger area it is more difficult to see.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Ernest Brown 1866 - 1938 Yorkshire Astronomer

Ernest William Brown 1866-1938

Ernest William Brown was born in Hull in Yorkshire on November 19th 1866, he was educated at the East Riding College before entering Christ College Cambridge to study mathematics.

Although a Yorkshire man he would spend most of his life in America. In 1891 he was appointed to the faculty of mathematics at Haverford College in Pennsylvania USA. In 1907 he was appointed professor of mathematics at Yale University where he he produced his now famous Tables of Motion of the Moon. Apparently the 600 pages of tabular matter which appeared in 1919 would be terrifying to anyone not accustomed to figures.

Brown’s tables were used in working out the position of the Moon, in addition he spent much of his time studying the problems of celestial mechanics in particular studying the trojan group of asteroids.

Ernest Brown who had suffered with bronchial troubles died in New Haven Connecticut on July 22nd 1938

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 79 Telescopium

Telescopium the Telescope - Southern Hemisphere

Another constellation introduced by de La Caille in the 1750s in honour of the invention of the telescope which hasd such a revolutionary significance for astronomy. However like many of his constellations it is faint and indistinct.

Alpha is a star of magnitude 3.5 and lies 278 light years away, it is a B3 class star with a surface temperature of 16,500’C

Tuesday 21 July 2020

9th Satellite of Jupiter

July 21st 1914 The 9th Satellite of Jupiter

On July 21st 1914 the 9th satellite of Jupiter was discovered by Seth Nicolson at Lick Observatory using the 36 inch Crossley reflector. It was not until 1975 that Jupiter IX as it was referred to was named Sinope. The satellite has a diameter of around 125 km.

The 36 inch Crossley telescope was used in Halifax, Yorkshire by Edward Crossley and Joseph Gledhill during the 1880s and early 1890s at their observatory at Bermerside. However due to the poor quality of the skies over Halifax due to the large number of factories and mills, the telecope could not be used to its full potential. It was the largest telescope in private hands in England at that time.

Crossley decided to donate the telescope to the Lick observatory in California where it would be used to make many astronomical discoveries in the early 20th century.

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 78 Taurus

Taurus the Bull
One of the most ancient constellations. Taurus has been known to people’s throughout the world since the dawn of civilisation, for the bull’s attributes of strength and fertility mean that it has always held an honoured place in ceremony and religion.
Usually only the head of the bull is depicted, its face being formed by the V shaped cluster of stars known as the Hyades. Its glinting red eye is marked by the star Aldebaran, and its long horns are tipped by the stars beta and zeta. In addition to the Hyades, Taurus contains the celebrated cluster of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters.
Alpha, Aldebaran which means the ‘follower of the Pleiades’ is a K5 giant with a temperature of 3,800’C, it is a variable star and varies between magnitude 0.7 and 0.9, Aldebaran lies 65 light years away
Beta El Nath which means the ‘butting one’, in the times of ancient Greece the star was shared by both Taurus and Auriga but since 1930 it has been permanently transferred to Taurus, its magnitude is 1.7, it is a class B7 giant with a temperature of 13,500’C and is 134 light years away.
Zeta lies 440 light years away, its a B2 giant with a temperature of 15,500’C, it has a magnitude of 3.0.
Gamma Prima Hyadum is the first of the Hyades, with a magnitude 3.6, lying 154 light years away. Gamma is a G8 giant with a temperature of 4,600’C
The Hyades is a large and bright open cluster of about 200 stars. The brightest members form a noticeable V shape, easily visible to the naked eye. In mythology the Hyades were the daughters of Atlas and Aethyra, and half sisters to the Pleiades. The Hyades are about 150 light years away.
The Pleiades also known as the seven sisters is the brightest and most famous star cluster in the sky, it is listed as M45. In mythology the seven sisters are named after a group of nymphs the daughters of Atlas and Pleione. About 7 can be seen by keen eyed people but there are about 250 stars in the group. The seven sisters are about 430 ly away.
In Taurus occurred the famous supernova that was seen from Earth in 1054, which gave rise to the Crab Nebula, M1. This is the celebrated Crab Nebula named by Lord Rosse in 1844 using the 72 in telescope. No one is sure why he thought it looked like a crab. At the centre of the nebula is a neutron star.

Monday 20 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 77 Sextans

Sextans the Sextant
A barren constellation south of Leo introduced in the late 17th century by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius. It commemorates the instrument used for observing star positions. Although the instrument was very important this constellation certainly is not, there are no bright stars here and little of interest to naked eye observers.
The brightest star alpha magnitude 4.5, its an A0 giant star with a temperature of 9,800’ C and is 280 light years away.

Sunday 19 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 76 Serpens

Serpens the Serpent
An ancient constellation representing a serpent wrapped around the serpent bearer, Ophiuchus. In fact Serpens has come off much worse with Ophiuchus because the constellation is split into two halves, Serpent Caput the Head, and Serpens Cauda the tail. However although a large constellation it is faint with no bright stars.
The brightest star alpha or Unukalhai which means the ‘Serpents Neck’ has a magnitude of 2.6 and is a K2 giant with a temperature of 4,600’C lying 74 light years away.
Beta has a magnitude of 3.7 and is 155 light years away. It is an A2 class star with a temperature of 8,700’C.
M5 a globular cluster at magnitude 5.7 just visible to the naked eye.
M16 the famous Eagle Nebula with the Pillars of Creation which appears in many photographs cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Saturday 18 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 75 Scutum

Scutum the Shield
A faint constellation between Aquila and Serpens, introduced in the 1680s by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius under the title Scutum Sobieski. This was to honour King John Sobieski of Poland who defeated the Ottoman army at the battle of Vienna in 1683.
Scutum is rich in star fields but there are few right stars visible to the naked eye.
Alpha magnitude 3.8 is a K3 giant star with a temperature of 4,000’C, it is 199 light years away.
Delta is a F2 giant star with a temperature of 7,000’C and is 202 light years away. Delta is the lead star in the delta Scutum class of variable stars varying slightly between magnitude 4.7-4.8.
M11 the Wild Duck cluster, is just visible to the naked eye under the best conditions. it gets its name because of its noticeable fan shape which resembles a flight of wild ducks.

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 74 Sculptor

Sculptor the Sculptor
One of the faint and half forgotten constellations introduced in the 1750s by Lacaille to fill in the southern celestial hemisphere. This constellation represents a sculptor’s workshop, for reasons that remain obscure. Its stars are of little interest.
Alpha the brightest star only has a magnitude of 4.3, it lies 780 light years away. Its a B7 giant with a temperature of 13,500’C
Sculptor also contains the Sculptor Dwarf galaxy which is a member of the local group of galaxies. They cannot be seen without telescopes.

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 73 Scorpius

Scorpius the Scorpion
A resplendent constellation lying in a rich area of the Milky Way, and packed with exciting objects for users of binoculars and small telescopes. In mythology, Scorpius was the scorpion whose sting killed Orion. And in the sky Orion still flees from the scorpion, for Orion sets below the horizon as the scorpion rises.
Scorpius clearly resembles the creature after which it is named, with a curve of stars forming its stinging tail. Its heart is marked by Antares it is very red in colour.
Originally in ancient Greek times and before Scorpius was a much larger constellation, the stars that once made up its claws have now been used to form the separate constellation of Libra.
Alpha or Antares which means the Rival of Mars, its an irregular variable star varying between magnitude 0.6-1.6 , it is 300 times larger than the Sun . It has a temperature of only 3,500’C and is a M5 supergiant star lying 500 light years away.
Beta or Acrab which means ‘the Scorpion’ has a magnitude 2.5 and is made up of an incredible 6 stars. It is a B0class star with a temperature of 27,000’C and is 400 light years away.
Delta or Dschubba which means ‘Forehead’ lies 440 light years away. Its a B0 star with a temperature of 27,000’C, and normally has a magnitude of 2.3. Dschubba is a gamma Cassiopeia type variable star and in 2000 it reached magnitude 1.5 changing the appearance of Scorpius.
Epsilon magnitude 2.3 spectrum K1 giant with a temperature of 4,500’C and lies 64 light years away.
Theta magnitude 1.9 spectrum F0 supergiant with a temperature of of 7,200’C and is 300 light years away.
Lambda or Shaula which means the ‘Sting’ has a magnitude of 1.6, its a B2 class star with a temperature of 25,000’C and is 570 light years away.
The Messier objects M4,M6 and M7 are visible to the naked eye while M80 require binoculars to see it.

Moses Holden and the Eclipse of 1842

Moses Holden and the Solar Eclipse of 1842

On July 8th 1842 the Preston astronomer Moses Holden observed a partial eclipse of the Sun. The eclipse was at maximum at 05.47 and about 75% of the Sun was covered by the Moon.

Although the first part of the eclipse was not seen from Preston due to cloud but the cloud had cleared by mid eclipse. Holden reported seeing mountains on the Moon around its edge as it passed in front of the Sun.

Moses Holden was clearly a very careful astroonmer as he reported to the local paper that they would have to revise the timings of the eclipse as his watch was seven and five/tenths of a second fast.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 72 Sagittarius

Sagittarius the Archer
An ancient constellation depicting a centaur, half man, half beast with a raised bow and arrow. Sagittarius has been visualised this way since at least ancient Greek times. It probably originated with the Sumerian civilization around the river Euphrates who saw him as Nergal, their archer god of war.
It is an older constellation than the other celestial centaur, Centaurus and is different in character. Whereas Centaurus is identified as a scholarly beneficent creature, Sagittarius is depicted with a threatening look aiming his arrow at the heart of Scorpio the Scorpion.
The stars of Sagittarius are often depicted as forming a teapot while a ladle known as the Milk Dipper a suitable implement to dip into this rich region of the Milky Way. The centre of our galaxy lies in Sagittarius so that the Milky Way star field are very rich here.
The centre of the galaxy is marked by a radio source known as Sagittarius A near the border with Scorpios. The main attraction of Sagittarius are its nebulas and clusters. There are 15 Messier objects more than any other constellation.
The brightest star, epsilon also known as Kaus Australis which means the southern part of the bow has a magnitude of 1.8 and is a B9 giant star with a temperature of 9,500’C and lies 143 light years away.
Sigma or Nunki with a magnitude of 2.0 and lying 228 lihjy teras away. It is a B2 class star with a temperature of 18,500’C.
Delta at magnitude 2.7 is also know as Kaus Media which means the middle of the bow, its an orange K3 giant star with a temperature of 4,000’C and is 348 light years away.
Lambda or Kaus Borealis which means northern part of the bow has a magnitude of 2.8 and is an orange K0 star with a temperature of 4,700’C. It is 78 light years away.
Gamma of Al Nasl which means the point of the arrow is a magnitude 3.0 star lying 98 light years away. It is another K0 class star with a temperature of 4,600’C.
Alpha is only mag 4.0, its a B3 class star with a temperature of 12,000’C and is 182 light years away.
Sagittarius is home to M8 the Lagoon Nebula, M17 the Omega Nebula, M18, M20 the Triffid Nebula, M21, M22, M23, M24, M25, M28, M54, M55, M69, M70,and M75

Monday 6 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 71 Sagitta

Sagitta the Arrow
Despite its small size Sagitta is the 3rd smallest constellation in the sky this arrow shaped constellation as known to the ancient Greeks. In the sky the arrow seems to be flying between Cygnus and Aquila. One legend says the arrow was shot by Hercules. Sagitta lies in a very river part of the galaxy.
The brightest star is gamma at magnitude 3.5, its a M0 red giant star with a temperature of 3,800’C and lies 258 light years away.
Delta has a magnitude 3.7 another red giant this time a M2 star with a temperature of 3,600’C. The star is 590 light years away.
Both alpha and beta are only magnitude 4.4
M71 was once an object of controversy among astronomers. Some argued it was a loose globular while others claimed it was an an extremely dense open cluster.
There is no doubt today however that M71 is a globular cluster- a very near one being only 13,000 light years away. Which is why it has the lack of a dense centre typical of more distant globulars.
M71 lies between the stars gamma and delta and is of mag 8.0 which means that it can be glimpsed through binoculars.

Sunday 5 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 70 Reticulum

Reticulum The Net
A small and very inconspicuous constellation introduced in the 1750s by Lacaille to commemorate the instrument known as the reticle which he used for measuring star positions on his surveys of the southern skies. Its only notable feature is that it lies close to the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Alpha magnitude 3.3 its G8 giant star with a temperature 5,000’C and is 161 light years away.
Beta magnitude 3.8 is a KO star with a temperature of 4,300’C and is 97 light years away.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 69 Pyxis

Pyxis the Compass
The smallest and least impressive of the four parts into which the constellation Argo Navis the ship was divided into in the 1750s by Lacaille. The other sections Carina, Puppis and Vela.
There are no objects of particular interest to users of binoculars despite the fact that the constellation lies in the Milky Way.
The brightest star and only one above mag 4.0 is alpha at mag 3.7 which is a B1 giant with a surface temperature of 22,000’C and is 880 light years away.
T Pyx is a recurrent Nova that has erupted more times than any other Nova. T Corona Borealis is referred to as the Blaze Star because it became much brighter. T Pyx erupted in 1890, 1902, 1920, 1944, 1960 and 2011. It lies between beta and lambda. At its brightest it has reached the 6th magnitude.

Friday 3 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 68 Puppis

Puppis the Stern
This is the largest of the four sections into which the ancient constellation of Argo Navis, the ship of the Argonauts, the constellation was dismembered in the 1750s by the French astronomer Nicolas Lacaille. The other sections are Carina the Keel, Pyxis the compass and Vela the sails.
Puppis lies in the Milky Way and contains rich star fields for sweeping binoculars.
Zeta the brightest star whose name is Naos which means ‘ship’ has a magnitude of 2.2 with a surface temperature of a whopping 38,000’C its an 04 class star and is 1,080 light years away.
Pi the second brightest star, its name Ahadi which means ‘having much promise’ has a magnitude of 2.7 and is a K3 supergiant with a temperature of 3,700’C and is 810 light years away.
Rho magnitude 2.8 F5 supergiant with a temperature of 6,700’C lying at a distance of 65 light years.
Tau magnitude 2.9 ,an orange K1 giant with a temperature of 3,800’C and is 182 light years away.
Xi magnitude 3.4 is a G6 supergiant with a temperature of 4,600’C and is 1,200 light years away.
There are three Messier objects M46,M47 and M93 that require binoculars to see them.
In November 1942 a bright nova appeared in Puppis reaching a magnitude of -0.2

The Thunder Moon

The Thunder Moon

The Full Moon on July 5th is known as the Thunder Moon as this is the month of the year when we are most likely to get thunder storms.

Thursday 2 July 2020

William Gascoigne 1612-1644

William Gascoigne

In the year 1612 William Gascoigne was born at Thorpe on the Hill, Middleton near Leeds, born just three years after the first use of an astronomical telescope Gascoigne would go on to make major contributions to the construction of accessories to use with telescopes, he would also forge links with some of the most important astronomers of the time, yet have a tragically short life.

He came from a family of local gentry, the Gascoigne coat of arms being the severed head of a golden conger eel. Very little is known of his early years, it is not even certain where he had his formal education. Whereas other people spent their leisure time hawking and hunting William Gascoigne was fascinated by the natural world and the world of instruments and machines.

We do know that by 1638 he was already a very experienced and seasoned astronomer. One point that seems bizarre with regards to his future life is that he received no training in mathematics. During Gascoigne’s lifetime the science of optics and the construction of telescopes were still in its infancy and was still a very secret subject which meant it was difficult for him to obtain books on the subject. However obtain books he did and he then became self-taught in the field of mathematics and optics, in fact what he was doing would be imitated by the world renowned Yorkshire telescope maker Thomas Cooke nearly two hundred years in the future.

By sheer dint of effort and research Gascoigne managed to have constructed a telescope and he even produced the lenses to go with it. The likelihood is that he almost certainly made several telescopes but we just don’t know how many. We know that he definitely had a telescope in 1640 because he was observing the Sun; Gascoigne was using the projection method to observe the Sun safely.

Gascoigne had made friends with two other astronomers William Crabtree 1610-1644 who lived in Manchester, and through Crabtree with Jeremiah Horrocks 1618-1641 who was born near Liverpool but later lived at Much Hoole near Preston, these three astronomers were the first people to start to get a grasp of just how big the solar system was. In 1639 Jeremiah Horrocks predicted that there would be a Transit of Venus, a transit occurs when a planet closer to the Sun than the Earth can be see passing in front of the Sun, this applies to only two planets, Mercury and Venus. While transits of Mercury are quite common those of Venus are extremely rare. Astronomers would use transits of Venus to try to work out how far away the Sun was. The Transit of Venus in 1639 was observed by just two people Horrocks and Crabtree. These three would become a formidable group of North Country astronomers but sadly only for a short period in time. They would all die young and at the time of the English Civil War.

However back to Gascoigne who had one of those lucky breaks in life. A spider had gotten into his telescope and spun a web. We can only assume at first that Gascoigne was pretty annoyed with this pesky spider messing around in his telescope but then he saw that the spider had done him a good turn, the web was very straight and very clear and he instantly realised that this could be used to perform a sight to make sure that you knew exactly where you were looking. He made the first cross hair wire albeit with spider webs.

This spider web technology would in fact be used right up until the Second World War in optical equipment. Gascoigne would quickly appreciate those spiders webs would become an indispensable aid to astronomers. Here was a natural resource that was not only very strong and very straight and being a Yorkshireman quickly realised that they also don’t cost anything.

Gascoigne also suggested that if it was very dark so the web could not be seen a lantern could be placed to allow its light to sufficiently illuminate the web. This illuminating technology would remain the same for the next two centuries.

We have no idea how many telescope sights that Gascoigne would make however in 1640 when William Crabtree visited him he was impressed with the numbers of them produced. Jeremiah Horrocks when hearing of these inventions was full of praise and admiration for Gascoigne.

But Gascoigne did not stop there he now had the means to accurately find an object in the sky, but could he measure how far apart or how was and object in the sky. Taking his spider web technology he mounted two spider webs which were mounted in the field of view and moved towards or away from each other by means of a screw. A scale would show how far apart the webs were. This was the filar micrometer a direct development of the telescope sight. He would become the first astronomer to use a micrometer to measure the angles and positions in the sky. Using his micrometer, Gascoigne made numerous measurements of solar and lunar diameters, plus positions of the stars including the Pleiades or Seven sisters.

Today of course we have equipment that can measure an angle to a precession that Gascoigne could never have imagined. If however we want to trace the time line of today’s measuring equipment right back to the first micrometer, we end up with William Gascoigne at Middleton near Leeds.

The trio would all died in the early 1640s, Jeremiah Horrock in January 1641 from an unknown reason, he never got to try the new micrometer, William Crabtree died in 1644 during the Civil War
but it is unknown if he was killed fighting. We do know that William Gascoigne died at the Battle of Marston Moor on July 2nd fighting on the royalist side for the King.

Much of his work then appeared to be lost or forgotten the micrometer does not seem to appear again until the 1660s about twenty years after the death of Gascoigne. However by chance some of his papers which survived the Civil War and the Great Fire of London came into the possession of Christopher and Richard Townley of Townley Hall in Burnley Lancashire.

They presented the papers to John Flamsteed the first astronomer royal that quickly realised just how important the work done by Horrock, Crabtree and Gascoigne was. Without the work of someone from the red rose county we would not have found out about the wonderful contribution to astronomy of this white rose person.

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 67 Piscis Austrinus

Piscis Austrinus The Southern Fish
This constellation has been known since ancient times and is often represented as a fish drinking the flow of water from the urn of the neighbouring Aquarius the water bearer. The fish has been identified with the Babylonian fish god Oannes and is said to be the parent of the zodiacal fish Pisces.
Alpha or Fomalhaut which means the fishes mouth is the most southerly of the 1st magnitude stars from that can be seen from Britain, it is seen autumn can can be found by using the two right hand stars of the square of Pegasus. Fomalhaut is of magnitude 1.2 and is an A3 star with a temperature of 8,000’C and lies at a distance of 25 light years.
Beta magnitude 4.3 is an A1 star 143 light years away with a temperature of 9,300’C..

Wednesday 1 July 2020

Astrognome A-Z of Constellations # 66 Pisces

Pisces the Fishes
An ancient constellation representing a pair of fishes tied by their tails, the knot being marked by the star alpha. One legend identifies the constellations with Venus and her son Cupid, who turned themselves into fishes and swam away from the attack of the monster Typhon.
The constellations most celebrated feature is that it contains the vernal equinox – the point at which the Sun moves across the celestial equator into the northern hemisphere each year. The point originally lay in Aries, but has now moved into Pisces because of precession, eventually it will move onto in Aquarius. It is still called the First Point of Aries
Alpha or Alrisha which means rope or knot with a magnitude of 3.8 is actually made of two stars of magnitude 4.3 and 5.2, a small telescope will show both stars. Alpha is 311 light years away and is an A class star.
Eta the brightest star in Pisces is known as Al Kargh or outpouring of water with a magnitude of 3.6 , it lies 350 light years away and is a G7 giant star with a temperature of 4,700’ C
Gamma magnitude 3.7 is a G8 class stars with a temperature of 4,600’C and is 138 light years away
FL19 or TX Psc a deep red irregular variable. One of the reddest stars that can be seen by the naked eye. TX varies between magnitude 4.9 – 5.5 in a period of between 224-450 days. Its 900 light years distant.